Patricia Davenport (L) and Marion Parks (R), poll workers at Sharon Baptist Church in West Philadelphia

Have a free day on Nov. 8? Want to play a non-partisan role in the democratic process and earn a couple hundred bucks along the way?

If your answer to all (or any) of those questions is yes, you might consider becoming a poll worker, one of the thousands of people who help make voting possible on Election Day.

Philadelphia needs more than 8,500 willing folks to keep things running smoothly for this upcoming election. Falling short of that number has been an issue in the past, having led to things like delays in getting polling places set up and longer lines. For the May 2022 primary, the City Commissioners’ Office was still recruiting the day before the election.

There’s some good news for poll workers — and potentially poll worker recruitment: the position just got a significant raise. All positions just got an $85 boost, meaning it’s about $200 in your pocket, just for helping democracy function.

What exactly does the job involve, and how can you sign up? Read on for what to know if you’re interested in staffing the polls.

What do poll workers do?

Each polling place is supposed to have people working in five different roles: judge of election, majority inspector, minority inspector, clerk, and machine inspector. Some — but not all — polling places also have bilingual interpreters, who can work in one of the other roles, too.

The judges of election, majority inspectors, and minority inspectors are elected, while the clerk and machine inspector are appointed.

Poll worker duties involve anything from opening the space and setting up machines, to making sure people understand how to use voting equipment. They also handle any other hiccups along the way. Each particular role has its own focus:

  • Judges of election oversee the entire voting process for their division, ensuring that federal and state election laws are followed.
  • Majority inspectors, minority inspectors, and clerks help judges of election carry out voting procedures and enforce rules. Judges of election assign them duties on Election Day.
  • Machine inspectors set up the voting machines and tell voters how to use them.
  • Bilingual interpreters bridge language gaps.

In general, poll workers work from 6:15 a.m. on Election Day until their polling place’s election materials get picked up. Per the City Commissioners’ website, that can happen “sometime after” 8 p.m.

How much do they get paid for all that?

It depends on the position. Judges of election earn $205, interpreters earn $180, and other poll workers earn $200 for their Election Day work. (The City Commissioners just voted on Wednesday to give workers a raise, so these rates have gone up since the May primary.)

Know that it can take a few weeks for the payments to process, so poll workers don’t go home with checks the day of the election.

Who can be a poll worker?

To be a poll worker, you have to be registered to vote in Philadelphia — though exceptions exist for 17-year-old high school students (if they meet some additional requirements).

Other things to note: You can’t be a government employee, elected official, or candidate for office, which includes everything from the city to the federal level. According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, there are some exceptions for district judges, notaries public, and National Guard members.

Per the city’s website, you’re also not allowed to work at the polls if you’ve been convicted of election-related crimes in the past four years (or a different court-imposed period of time).

Is training required? How does that work?

Training is optional, according to Deputy City Commissioner Nick Custodio. But poll workers do get paid an extra $50 to attend an in-person or online training run by the City Commissioners’ Office, provided they actually show up and work on Election Day, too. Bilingual interpreters earn $30 for training.

This year those trainings run from Sept. 6 through Oct. 30, with some make-up seminars from Oct. 31 through Nov. 6. The sessions last an hour.

There are also online resources for soon-to-be-poll-workers. The nonpartisan initiative “Power the Polls” has a handy guide for the types of questions to ask during the training if they’re not already addressed in the curriculum, and the local nonprofit Committee of Seventy offers supplemental training and resources for any poll workers who are interested. The City Commissioners also have a few additional training materials posted to their website.

Poll workers at North Light Community Center in Manayunk Credit: Lizzy McLellan Ravitch / Billy penn

So how do I sign up?

The first set of people who try to recruit clerks, machine inspectors, and bilingual interpreters are each division’s election workers. Since divisions are so small — there are 1,703 of them — “Election Board workers are your neighbors,” Deputy Commissioner Custodio told Billy Penn.

So if a neighbor who happens to be a judge of election asks if you’re interested in working on Election Day, saying yes is one way you can get the gig.

“In our experience, division level officials are open to and vocal with their neighbors with asking for help to work at the polls,” Custodio said. “We prefer that judges of elections, who know their neighborhoods and neighbors best, recruit voters who live in the division before we attempt to fill the vacancy.”

If neighborhood-level recruitment doesn’t fill all the necessary spots, the Office of the City Commissioners begins appointing workers to vacant positions.

You can sign up to be considered for these vacant positions online. The City Commissioners, the Pennsylvania Department of State, and the Committee of Seventy all have forms on their websites for folks to indicate interest. There’s no set deadline to fill them out.

Each of the forms looks a little different and goes to a different place, but all lists of election workers ultimately end up at the City Commissioners’ Office.

You can also walk into or call any of the commissioners’ offices or locations to express interest, per Custodio. There’s also an option to sign up on your voter registration application.

Signing up doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be chosen for the gig — you have to wait to be contacted by election officials to know if you’re in. Per Custodio, candidates should hear back by the end of September.

The process for becoming a judge of election or majority or minority inspector in your voting division requires more planning ahead, since you have to go through the process of running for office. Judges and inspectors of election serve four-year terms, and they appear on the ballot in the year after a presidential election. The next election for those positions will be in 2025.

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...